To the new Overwatch esports fan, the name ‘Kongdoo Panthera’ probably doesn’t mean much. It’s two made-up words slapped together by a second-tier Korean team you see sometimes while browsing upcoming matches – but to people who’ve been following the scene since OGN APEX was home to the highest level of Overwatch competition, Kongdoo Panthera was once the best team in the world. Or, rather, they could have been.
Following an impressive second place finish in APEX Season 3 and an unbeaten run through group stages in Season 4, the team was struck with internal issues just before their semi-final match against the up-and-coming GC Busan. After being eliminated from the tournament, some players moved on to the London Spitfire while others stayed behind. Kongdoo Panthera became a shadow of the powerhouse it had once been.
Now as we enter Stage Two of the Overwatch League’s inaugural season, things have changed yet again. Panthera’s breakout DPS player Ji-Hyeok “Birdring” Kim is a mainstay of the Spitfire’s starting roster, having made his mark as one of the League’s most impactful players. Meanwhile, Kongdoo veterans Dong-Jun “Rascal” Kim and Chan-Hyung “Fissure” Baek have departed from the Spitfire, transferring to Dallas Fuel and the Los Angeles Gladiators respectively. Back in South Korea, Ji-Ho “Wakawaka” An, who opted not to join his teammates in the move to Overwatch League, has announced his retirement from pro gaming. Of the players that made Kongdoo Panthera famous, none will be playing together come March.
In their heyday, Kongdoo Panthera was known for their ability to make composition and playstyle changes swiftly and fluidly, thanks in large part to the wide hero pools of their star DPS duo, Birdring and Rascal. Rascal made waves in the competitive Overwatch community during APEX Season 2 when he became one of the first players to play Sombra – his self-professed “favorite hero” – at the competitive level. Through his career he continued to impress by excelling on unorthodox hero picks such as Doomfist, Hanzo, and Mei. Per Beom-Joon “Bishop” Lee, the London Spitfire’s Head Coach, in an interview with DBLTAP: “Rascal gets very excited with each [new patch] because he loves adapting and playing new heroes and creating new strategies.”
The fact that a player as skilled as Rascal didn’t see much play time in Stage One is a testament to the immense talent within the London Spitfire. Seeking more time on a starting roster, Rascal has decided to move to the Dallas Fuel starting from Stage Two, where he will be guaranteed more play time.
As good as Rascal is, during the Kongdoo Panthera days it was his DPS partner Birdring who usually stole the spotlight. Birdring’s dynamic and intelligent Tracer play captured the attention of viewers, and his incredible proficiency at hitscan heroes secured his place among the world’s star players.
Too often fans rely on statistics to judge player performance. As such, Birdring and his impressive numbers received the bulk of the praise when it came to Kongdoo Panthera. Anyone who looks closer will know that Birdring’s true skill was only revealed because he had an equally capable partner enabling him. Rascal’s middling statistics during his time playing with Birdring were a result of frequent hero swaps and consistent damage output, rather than flashy plays. “There are certain situations in which Birdring can deal damage easily,” Rascal said in a September 2017 interview with InvenGlobal. “And it’s my job to create those opportunities.”
Although their journey together ends here, Birdring and Rascal will be remembered forever as one of the most iconic DPS duos in Overwatch esports history. However, nothing they achieved could have been possible without one of the world’s best and most underrated main tanks at their side.
Fissure never seems to make it into discussions about main tank players, but he’s proven that he deserves to be at the top of people’s lists. On Kongdoo Panthera, he was known primarily for his Reinhardt play during the varied meta of APEX Season 2. As Winston became the go-to main tank, he made the transition quite easily, especially when compared to other Reinhardt specialists. Fissure also acted as Kongdoo Panthera’s shot-caller; under his leadership, the team saw great success and plowed through opposition with their coordinated teamplay.
It was apparent through his limited play time in the Overwatch League Fissure was still able to perform at a very high level across tank heroes, but was constantly edged out by the Spitfire’s starting main tank, Jae-Hui “Gesture” Hong, who played a better Winston in a meta that favored that hero more. Near the end of Stage One Fissure requested more play time, which Spitfire couldn’t guarantee him, prompting him to transfer to the Los Angeles Gladiators. Though he parts ways with the teammates he began his career alongside, he may gain more exposure on the Gladiators, allowing more people to finally recognize him as the great main tank that he is.
Despite a shaky start in APEX Season 3, Kongdoo Panthera, helped by rigorous coaching and greater discipline, battled their way through tough opposition like LW Blue and EnVyUs to claim second place. There was massive improvement all around, but no player improved more than Wakawaka. He had come into the season fresh off a role swap to main support, having been designated a flex player in Season 2. His play and decision-making left much to be desired in his debut as a support player, but by the end of the season he was able to go toe-to-toe with Jin-Mo “Tobi” Yang, whose Lucio play has long been regarded as the gold standard.
Even as Kongdoo Panthera hit their rough patch in Season 4, Wakawaka continued to perform consistently, doing his job as best he could though his team struggled around him. His is a name that new fans of Overwatch esports won’t be familiar with and likely never will be, as he announced his retirement from pro gaming recently. It’s a great shame that the scene has lost one of its strongest main support players, especially now that Lucio seems to be returning to the meta. Wakawaka would not have looked out of place on any Overwatch League team should he have chosen to continue down this path.
The Kongdoo Panthera of today, revamped and retooled, bears little resemblance to what it once was: a juggernaut of a team, loaded with star players who had good synergy but, ultimately, were unable to stay together. In a team like the Spitfire circa Stage One, there was always going to be talent worthy of a starting spot stuck on the bench. While it’s sad to see one of the most storied and talented rosters drift apart without having been able to fulfill their potential, there’s no doubt that every player will improve whichever team they’re on. We can only hope that their history as former members of Kongdoo Panthera won’t be forgotten.